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Mike Volpe

Haskell Indian Nations University

Haskell Indian Nations University – Lawrence, Ks

Haskell Indian Nations University is a unique and special place. Although it originally started as an assimilation school like other government-run Indian boarding schools, Haskell’s destiny was different than that of other schools. Haskell is the only government boarding school that has evolved into a four-year university for Native students. It is also the only inter-tribal college, accepting students from all federally recognized tribes.


In 1884 a government boarding school was established in Lawrence, KS, called the U.S. Indian Industrial Training School. The school opened in September 1884 with three buildings and 31 students from the Ponca, Sac and Fox, Shawnee, Kiowa, Comanche, and Chippewa Muncee tribes. This government boarding school was part of the federal government’s assimilation policy. This policy involved removing Indian children from their families, sometimes forcibly, and placing them in schools far from their homes for a period of up to four years to give them training in domestic and farming skills. The assimilation policy was put in place to remove all connections to the tribes and cultural influences to “assimilate” the students into the dominant culture. This policy was very traumatic for Native families, and the effects of this boarding school era are still affecting families today.

In the beginning years Haskell was run as a military school where the students made their own uniforms and grew and preserved their own food. The rules were very strict—no speaking a tribal language, no conversing with siblings, no practicing of tribal customs and traditions. Their traditional clothing and personal items were removed, their hair was cut, and they were forced to march to classes and to church. In those beginning years, the children were taught to speak English and classes were at an elementary school level.

By the end of the first school year, there were 400 students coming from tribes from all around the country. Eventually the level of education was increased and went up to the high school level. A Commercial Department taught business classes, including the first typing class in Kansas in 1895.

A Normal School prepared students to become teachers. By 1933, Haskell got the first Native superintendent, Dr. Henry Roe Cloud. Dr. Roe Cloud was a progressive educator and the first Native person to graduate from Yale University. During his time at Haskell, Dr. Roe Cloud reversed the assimilation style emphasis on the curriculum and actually changed the curriculum to emphasize Native culture.

As students got their education at Haskell, they stayed on as staff and faculty. One notable individual, George Shawnee, got his degree at Haskell and stayed on as staff for 40 years, and saw 9,000 students go through Haskell. As these staff and faculty stayed at Haskell, they slowly turned the school around. By the 1930s, people who came to Haskell loved the school and learned trades such as printing, nursing, business, and other vocational-technical trades such as electricity and refrigeration, as well as receiving high school diplomas.

In 1970, the level of education increased to that of a junior college and the name was changed to Haskell Indian Junior College. And in 1993, Haskell introduced the first four-year baccalaureate degree program in elementary teacher education and the name was changed to Haskell Indian Nations University.

Today there are four four-year degree programs— elementary teacher education, business, environmental science, and American Indian Studies. There are several two-year associate degrees offered. There are on average 950 students each semester, coming from approximately 130 different tribes, and from about 35 different states. Almost the entire faculty is Native and all classes are taught from a Native perspective.